At least once a year, I really, truly get my ass kicked on the bike.
This year, I was lucky that The Knock couldn't find me until August 25. It usually happens in the first race of the year, but since I haven't raced a lick so far in 2012, I lasted until late summer without bonking.
The recipe for my disasters always has the same ingredients: rushing in the early a.m. to fill bottles, pump tires, lube the chain, find that lost glove and favorite sunglasses, hit the ATM and drive like hell for three hours so I could arrive at the start spot, usually in an off-the-beaten-track parking lot on a side street in a town I visit just often enough to fool myself into thinking I know where I am.
I have GPS, but I always forget the address and leave the scribbled directions on the kitchen counter.
Last weekend I did all of that, but made another critical mistake by thinking the two glazed doughnuts I grabbed out of a sticky glass box at 7-Eleven while paying for gas at 6 a.m. would be sufficient for six hours of climbing steep paved and dirt roads in the Shenandoahs.
This wasn't a race-race, but a "practice" for the September 15 Jeremiah Bishop Alpine Loop Gran Fondo near Harrisonburg, Virginia . I went there with two missions: get in some good climbs and scout some photo positions for the event. Piece o' cake. It was a piece all right, but not o' cake.
I've ridden the infamous Reddish Knob ridge several times on a mountain bike, but only once on a road bike and that was in last year's Fondo, when it was a dirt climb on the Medio Course.
This year it was paved (sadly, as the number of good dirt roads in the mountains is declining as humans demand more asphalt), but I did well on it in 2011 and had no reason to believe 2012 would be anything but better.
Mistake #1: I brought my orange Ibis Hakkalugi steel bike thinking its new 27c Paris-Roubaix tires would be superior to my silver Ibis Hakkalugi steel bike with worn-down 32c 'cross tires. In my hubris, I forgot that the orange bike was set up as a roleur with a big-big chain ring and a middling small ring. Aw, no big deal, it worked fine on my neighborhood training rides. And I rode strong last year.
One small detail: The silver Hakkalugi has a triple-crankset designed specifically for climbing steep, gnarly dirt roads and trails. It was back home sleeping.
Mistake #2: I screwed around in the parking lot at the meet-up spot, a bagel café in a strip mall, and didn't get the bagel with cream cheese I had been counting on. I had a bunch of GUs and such, but didn't put all of them in my jersey pockets because I thought this "practice ride" would be pretty mellow.
Mistake #3: As we rolled out of the parking lot, Jeremiah mentioned that we would be climbing Reddish Knob from the Harrisonburg side, not the usual Sugar Grove side. Hmmmm. Searching brain files. No record of ever riding uphill from that side, but plenty of very fast descents. One of those dashboard-warning lights went on in my head, but how hard could it be?
Mistake #4: Not all years are alike. Last year, I didn't fade until the final 10% of the Fondo course and there was sufficient downhill mileage to ease to the finish. Last year I was turning 58. This year I am turning 59. Years after age 50 are like ascending dog years: 58 to 59 equals about 500 normal days of wear and tear.
But age is not an excuse because most of the guys (no women were on the practice ride but we couldn't have survived without Erin Bishop and Conrad manning the fuel truck) were over 50.
Long, sad story short, I suffered mightily on the slopes of Reddish Knob, with my internal "low fuel" icon flashing orange and my legs twitching like a science class frog.
I was able to dodge more of the carnage (the descent of the newly paved "old" ascent was sweet and almost too smooth and I was able to evade the 27% grade of the new, super-gnarly dirt (mostly rock) road on the Alpine Loop route by geo-tagging potential photographer positions and drinking sugared Cokes from Erin's SUV. Many cookies later I was back on familiar asphalt flying down Reddish Knob.
I was looking forward to finishing off my recovery with a climb of the lying S.O.B. Mole Hill a few miles from town, but the rain started and we hightailed it straight back to Harrisonburg.
When we got to the parking lot, the bagel place was closed. Like a fool, I ate GUs on the two-and-a-half hour drive home. I sure hope I learned my lesson. Next time I'll get bean burritos.